SUICIDE IS the leading cause of death among young people aged between 20 and 34 years old in the UK, with men three times more likely than women to end their own life.

Recent research by the Farm Safety Foundation revealed that over 88% of farmers under the age of 40 rank poor mental health as the biggest hidden danger facing the industry today.

Despite successful campaigns to raise awareness of mental health in farming, there is still a lasting stigma which has left the agricultural industry facing a battle with suicide which has claimed the lives of so many.

Farm worker, Adam Mathison, opened up to The Scottish Farmer about his own mental health struggles and how his efforts to conceal his pain from those he loved, drove him to trying to take his own life on two occasions.

The 22-year-old from Peebles wasn’t born in to farming, but always had a passion for the countryside and fell under the wing of Jim Currie at a younger age then went onto work with Jim Warnock, at the age of 16, who encouraged and supported him to find his way in the industry.

He went on to complete his level three in farming at Borders College then pursued contracting jobs in Ireland and Fife, before finding himself in his current role at John Grant Agricultural Services, in mid-Lothian.

He is an active member of West Fife Young Farmer’s Club and to his peers, Adam has always been the life and soul of the party, so it came as a huge shock when they discovered someone ‘so strong’ could hit rock bottom.

“I had a bad accident last August and had to be housebound for three weeks,” he began. “For someone who is really independent, I suddenly had to rely on everyone around me to tend to my every need, which made me feel like such a burden.”

Adam returned to his work before he was ready, determined not to appear ‘weak’ and leaving those around him oblivious to the inner turmoil he was facing.

A month later, someone close to him tried to take their own life, which weighed heavily on his mind, but instead of taking time off work to process it, he pretended everything was okay.

“I struggled on, trying to juggle stuff going on at home with work, family and relationships – it was just too much for my head to handle, I was all over the place,” he said.
Adam continued to see his friends but put on a show of strength to mask how he was really feeling.
“One of my friends has said to me since that he’d never have known anything was wrong with me. We had been out for a round of mini golf and as usual I was the one cracking jokes.
“They never thought I would be the person to throw the towel in and be defeated from an illness. I didn’t tell them because of my pride. It means everything to me. I thought it was weak to show emotion but now I wish I had spoken out sooner.”

In early December, all the emotions Adam was trying desperately to conceal came to a climax and he made the decision to end his life.
“I was in such a dark place. My head couldn’t handle it any longer. I went to bed one night and said good night to everyone. I texted my dad saying sorry and decided enough was enough.
“My mum found me the next morning and called the ambulance. I was kept in hospital for a couple of days, but I let my pride get in the way and wouldn’t accept follow-up support from the crisis team.”

Only a week later, Adam ended up back in that same hospital for a second time.
“I had had enough again,” he recalled. “It felt like life was beating me down to my knees. I was trapped in this black box and couldn’t see any way out. 
“The doctors told me that if I didn’t go with the crisis team that I wouldn’t survive a third attempt on my life.”

With his family and friends begging him to accept support, he agreed to be admitted into Huntlyburn Ward, in Melrose where he spent six and a half weeks recovering.
“I was very reluctant to stay and began panicking, but this nurse called Karen came and calmed me down and spoke me through everything. It is amazing how speaking to someone can help, especially someone with training. 
“They can understand what you have gone through and a lot of the staff had their own experiences with poor mental health too.
“A couple of times, when my mind began to go back to that dark place, a nurse called Tom sat with me for hours until I came out the other side. Having someone there meant so much.”

During his stay at Huntlyburn, Adam was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder – a mental illness which can affect a person’s ability to manage emotions – and was put on a course of medication.
“The doctors believed I may have had BPD for years, but it had gone undetected and had been triggered during the past few months. They put me on tablets, but they didn’t work out at first and it was all very stressful. 
“Then this wonderful doctor changed my medication and encouraged me to go to the gym and I suddenly turned a chapter and got a whole new lease of life.”

Reigniting his passion for the gym was his real breakthrough, giving him an outlet to release his emotions and clear his mind.
“I remember when the doctor said to me, you’re ready to go home. It was such an emotional moment. I had built myself back up from being in that horrible, dark, nasty place.
“The scariest and most powerful obstacle you will ever come up against is your own mind. If your mind is telling you, you can’t go on, and you let it win, then it will and it won’t get better. But if you seek support, only then will you come through the other side.”

He stressed that that there is so much pressure on young men to keep it all in and to put on a display of strength, admitting that pride has a huge amount to answer for.
“I was so stubborn before and wouldn’t back down to a raging bull, so If I could ask for help, others can too,” he said.
“I wish now I had accepted help sooner, but I also know it is normal to feel the way I do, it is normal to think some days you don’t want to get out of bed, you don’t want to wake up or you want a day to yourself.”

Turning to the stigma which exists around mental health in farming, he stressed that more needs to be done to normalise questions around mental health and to take time out when you are struggling.

“Farming is hard going, you work long hours in a machine, on your own for a lot of the day. You could be first out in the morning and last one in at night, get your tea, go to bed – repeat! That can be from springtime to wintertime.
“So often men feel like they have to be like robots and not show emotion. I was brought up like that, help everyone else and deal with your shit in your own time. I realise now you have to prioritise your own health, you can’t be strong for others if you don’t look after number one.
“Men, particularly, must not be ashamed to talk about their mental health. There is no weakness in admitting you are not okay.”

He issued a warning regarding health and safety in the workplace: “There is a need for bosses to check in on their staff and ask how they are doing. 
“I’ve known friends who are too scared to say they are struggling in case they look like they are making excuses and then have gone on to have an accident. Farming is a dangerous place to work and if your mind isn’t in it, then other people could end up getting hurt.
“As an industry we need to start treating mental health the same as physical health. No one is ashamed to say when they have broken their leg, why should this be any different?” he asked. 
“We need to normalise conversations around mental health and look out for colleagues and friends, sometimes the strongest ones could be struggling the most.
“If my story can help one person, then that person goes on to help someone else then that is all I can hope for,” Adam concluded.

Guidance and support

If you have personally been affected by any of the content in this article and would like to seek further advice, please see the contact details of specific organisations below:

RSABI: Helpline open seven days between 7am – 11pm on 0300 111 4166 or
Breathing Space – Lines are open Mon – Thu between 6pm - 2am and from Fri 6pm – Mon 6am on 0800 83 85 87
Scottish Association of Mental Health – Call the info service on 0141 530 1000 Mon-Fri between 9-5 or
Samaritans – Helpline open 24/7, on 116 123 or 08457 90 90 90 or
Support in Mind Scotland (National Rural Mental Health Forum) Call on 0131 662 4359 Mon-Fri between 9am – 5pm or
If you need urgent medical attention, then please call NHS 24 on 111 or call emergency services on 999.